NSW Sex Industry Report 2012

The Law and Sexworker Health (LASH) team are leading international authorities on the public health and legal aspects of sex work – combining over 100 years of multidisciplinary research experience into sex work in NSW, interstate, and internationally.

Like most Australian Governments, NSW periodically reviews its legislative approach to prostitution. Independent of this process, the LASH team was compiling extensive data on the prostitution laws in NSW; prosecutions (2000 –2006) resulting from those laws; the reactions of local government; the structure and function of the sex industry in Sydney; the demographics, behaviour, health, and welfare of a representative sample of brothel-based sex workers in Sydney; and the operation of health promotion and clinical services. The NSW Ministry of Health contracted the LASH team to compile this Report in order to better inform NSW policy considerations.

Key findings
  • Sydney has a diverse and open sex industry. Compared to other Australian cities, Sydney’s sex industry is commensurate with the size of its population. NSW men are infrequent consumers of commercial sexual services, with only 2.3% purchasing sexual services in any one year, similar to the Australian average. The number of sex workers in Sydney brothels was similar to estimates from 20 years ago. These data confirm that the removal of most criminal sanctions did not increase the incidence of commercial sex in NSW.
  • Despite several remaining laws against prostitution-related activities, offenses finalised in the NSW courts were overwhelmingly concentrated on the street-based sex industry. A third of those who were prosecuted were male clients of street workers.
  • Sydney brothels are widely dispersed in inner urban and suburban areas, and they attract few complaints from neighbours. Because of difficulties in gaining development approval from local councils many Sydney brothels operate without approval, they are often small with poor occupational health and safety standards, and may masquerade as massage parlours.
  • Condom use at work approaches 100% in Sydney brothels and when the LASH team tested the Sydney sex workers the prevalence of four STIs – chlamydia (2.8%), gonorrhoea (0), Mycoplasma genitalium (3.6%), and trichomoniasis (0.7%) – was at least as low as the general population.
  • In general Sydney brothels workers enjoyed levels of mental health that were comparable to the general population. However, 10% of the Sydney women were found to be severely distressed on psychological testing (the Kessler-6 scale): twice as often as the general population. Psychological distress was strongly associated with injecting drug use.